"Gabon is Africa for advanced"

Cees Wittebrood

Gabon is Africa for advanced

Travel Gabon & Equatorial Guinea

Mr. Wittebrood has already visited many countries and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are two of the few countries that are still missing from his world tour. In Gabon he enters the impenetrable jungle of Lambarene and the Luongo NP with special wildlife such as gorillas and the 'surfing hippos'. He also explores the special Equatorial Guinea, including the green island of Bioko and Rio Campo on the border with Cameroon. In total, his journey lasted 15 days.

Dear Dorian, I am home safely again, an enormous experience richer. Below you will find a fairly extensive journal. I hope it gives a good picture of this exciting journey and that you consider it suitable to put on your site. There is a lot to tell, more than I can say with this travel report. Many thanks to Untamed Travelling, especially to Angelina and you. It was quite an experience. Regards, Cees


I have already visited about 237 countries, islands and territories including countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia as well as islands such as Ascension, Easter Island, Nauru, Palau and East Timor. All small beer compared to Gabon and especially Equatorial Guinea. Both countries are a high-threshold destination. But if I want to complete my trip around the world I have to go there.
My journey starts with an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Zaventem (Brussels) via Vienna to Addis Ababa and then on to Libreville. My patience is tested when it turns out that my flight with Ethiopian Airlines cannot depart due to a technical problem. We only leave the next day with a two-hour delay and various setbacks at security and a defect in the electronic entrance gates...
On arrival in Libreville I am met by my driver Xavier who takes me to Hotel Tropicana, not far from the airport, beautifully situated on the white beach dotted with huge tree trunks and bordered by slanting palms. I enjoy a cool local beer, Regab, while recovering from the long journey. 


Time to discover Gabon and so I'm going to Lambarené brought. The roads are rough and there is a lot of gendarmerie along the road trying to cheat you in all kinds of ways. Corruption is blatant and widespread. On the way you can clearly see that 70% of Gabon is covered with rainforest; endless rainforest as far as the eye can see when we see the river Komo to cross. I am visiting the Albert Schweitzer hospital, which is also my next overnight address. The lunch is delicious and so is the view of the museum and the Ogooué River . I take a boat trip on the river. On the right bank live the Myené - western oriented - and on the left bank the Fang - more traditional and authentic African. The difference is clearly visible in the architectural style. We sail under the Adouma bridge through which thousands of bats swarm, twitter and clatter, then turn around and sail on to Ngomo, a village located on the Ambila River, an hour and a half by boat from Lambaréné, the first Protestant settlement in Gabon from 1898. I have the boat all to myself. That is quite luxurious if I compare it with another pirogue with 8 tourists in it. Own boat, own guide, own trip, thanks to Untamed Traveling.



Loango National Park is gorgeous. Via a 5-hour boat trip on the river Ogooué, the largest river in Gabon, which originates in Congo, I reach Omboué and then drive another 2 hours in a safari jeep to the Loango Lodge. Loango National Park is the jewel in the crown of Gabon's thirteen parks. It is a unique combination of landscape, nature and wildlife. Irresistible for a safari enthusiast. The park has about 200km of pristine, uninhabited coast. On this coast you will not see a human being, only elephants, buffalo and even gorillas. Special are the 'surfing hippos' Entertaining but life-threatening. Lagoons, forests, forests, savannas, rivers, wetlands all come together in a park of about 1600 km2.
The gorilla safari was very impressive. Today it is about a 6 kilometer walk to where the gorillas are located, through dense rainforest. I am accompanied by six guides who know the jungle like the back of their hand. The gorilla family is a family of 16 gorillas led by the Silverback Kamaya; hefty, large and imposing and his family roams around him. Unfortunately, he does not allow himself to be photographed. Tired, sweaty, dirty, but satisfied we first return on foot through the forest and then return to the lodge by pirogue (boat). Freshen up quickly, have a late lunch and then continue on for a safari tour to the coastal strip. We spot groups of buffalo, a herd of red river hogs and also a single sitatunga. Also, forest elephants hesitantly emerge to eat the salt-rich grasses.
Deeper into the jungle we see more wildlife: countless forest elephants - there are two Gabonese subspecies the larger Otimbo and the smaller Asala - a sitatunga with its young, crocodiles, hippos, countless birds, ibis and kingfisher. It is also unbelievable how many different trees there are. Most notable are the 45-50 meter high giants, such as the moabi, the marula (known for the drink Amarula), the azobé, odika and Gabon's national tree, the Okoumé. All around us we hear and see gorillas, elephants, red river hogs, buffalo, capuchin monkeys, mangabeys and mandrills .
My hotel, Tropicana, is less impressive. The staff is very inhospitable (actually I experience that all over Gabon, so as the journey progresses I don't notice it anymore), but the view is great; on the beach, at sunrise and under a pastel blue sky makes you feel like you are in paradise.


My next highlight is a three hour trek in the Pongara National Park . Not too big, but rich with elephants, buffalo, wild boars, a lone hippo, many species of monkeys, including chimpanzees, antelopes, sitatungas and, they say, leopards. We see more tracks than animals, but the experience is great. Can't believe this park is so close to the busy capital of Gabon.  
When we sail back to Libreville by boat we still see whales and orcas. A fantastic end to my journey through Gabon.
Next stop is Equatorial Guinea . There are no fewer than 7 (!) people in the entire plane. That shows how exceptionally this destination is visited. I'm flying on to bata in Rio Munic and here I am the only non-African in the entire airport. All travelers are staring straight ahead. There is no happiness here. There is no normal excitement of travel here. Here there is resignation.


The center of bata has been blocked because of a massive demonstration against the arrest of the President's son by the French police in Paris. The son is a multi-millionaire, he has been busted for fraud, corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is Africa's longest-ruling autocrat. For almost 40 years. His son is First Vice President and destined to succeed him. The regime is not a democracy, but an autocratic kleptocracy. Equatorial Guinea is pretty much the Bahrain of Central Africa. Bizarre.
The landscape is covered with green vegetation as far as the eye can see, intersected here and there by small forest paths. We hardly see any traces of animals. When we come to talk about the people of Equatorial Guinea, Cyril (my guide) appears to share my limited experience. In his eyes the "Equatoria guineans" are stiff, stiff, closed and unfriendly. 
We drive along the coast through places like Punta Mbunda where an old Spanish lighthouse stands, Kombwe with a sea turtle museum and Tica to the border with Cameroon. The Rio Campo forms the border river where trade takes place. Then we drive back to Bata where we visit the cathedral, the radiant white Nuevo Ayuntamiento, the Puerto Viejo and the Torre de la Libertad.
I am staying in Malabo at the Sofitel President, in the colonial center of the city, right next to the President's Palace. From my room I have a magnificent view of La Plaza de la Independencia and the richly lit Cathedral de Malabo.
My tour on the island of Bioko is surprising. Menacing clouds hang over the crater of the 3100 meter high Pico Basile and we continue our way in alternating sun, rain and low clouds through the places Rebola, Basakato and Baney . Everywhere you see the Ceiba, the national tree, which can also be seen in the national flag. The south of Bioko is a protected jungle area. At Moka we stop at another Presidential Palace. moka is also the center of the Bubi culture. When we stop for lunch, it strikes me again that the people here don't really get along with foreigners. It's still bizarre that the service here is so slow, clumsy and blunt.
With a guided city tour I explore malobo and see oa  Independence square, the cathedral, La Casa Verde and I visit it island of Horacio , but get out of there quickly because of the mosquitoes.


Then it's time to go back home. With nine checks at the airport, my patience has been put to the test, but otherwise the return journey is fine. I ponder my visit to Equatorial Guinea: a strange country, but so much to offer: lavish forests, beautiful beaches, a touch of Spanish colonial heritage, but the regime is so restrictive, the population so stiff, so moody, so inhospitable. So I won't go back to it again.
Finally: Gabon is Africa for the advanced. Don't go there as your first destination in Africa. But go there if you want to discover the vast, untouched nature and feel like an adventure. The population is cheerful and likes to party the Congolese way. In Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, there is nothing that you cannot see elsewhere. Moreover, the regime is difficult and the population is not sympathetic. The threshold is high for both countries, but ultimately not too high for Gabon, but it is for Equatorial Guinea.